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Enjoy Magazine

Isac and Lorena Alvarez’s Tango Tacos in Cottonwood

07/20/2016 11:00AM ● By Jon Lewis

It Takes Two

August 2016
By Jon Lewis
Photo: Erin Claassen

Isac and Lorena Alvarez are no strangers to hard work, nor are they unfamiliar with good Mexican food, and both traits make them excellent candidates to make a go of the Tango Tacos Bar & Grille in downtown Cottonwood.

The young couple moved into the former Cottonwood Eatery in March, ending a year-long search for a brick-and-mortar restaurant to call their own. Their Tango Tacos trailer, which they have operated since 2007 on Cottonwood’s Main Street, is now being run by Lorena’s parents, Renae and Santiago Magana.

“This is a lot of work. It’s extremely different from running a trailer,” Lorena says during a mid-afternoon break. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun. We’re still working through the kinks.”

Isac, who spends most of his time in the kitchen as the lead cook, agrees with his wife but says he prefers working behind a grill to his previous job as a truck driver. A native of Guadalajara, Mexico, Isac immigrated to the United States in 2000; Lorena is a native of Red Bluff and has a lot of family members who live in Cottonwood.

Even though Isac says his mother is an excellent cook, he is the first in his family to own a restaurant. Lorena, whose sister and cousin also work as cooks at Tango Tacos, says home and family are central to the restaurant’s success and its business model.

“We’re very particular about how our food is made. We want to serve food that’s made the same way we eat at home. Maybe it’s a little more expensive, but it’s authentic. People enjoy that and they come back,” Lorena says.

Corn tortillas, a staple in a lot of Mexican dishes, are made from scratch each day, and everything from sauces and salsas to the signature tacos al pastor and the birria (a spicy stew with goat meat, native to Isac’s home state of Jalisco, that’s served on weekends) is fresh and made to order. “There’s no canned anything,” Lorena says.

The couple’s two daughters, Isabella, 13, and 9-year-old Ilyssa, are part of the Tango Tacos crew at times, hosting and bussing tables when their schoolwork, sports commitments and 4-H responsibilities allow. “We want to show our girls that hard work pays off,” Lorena says.

During the five years they operated their Tango Tacos trailer, the Alvarezes built their clientele slowly and steadily, and when the opportunity arose to take over the much-loved Cottonwood Eatery, they knew they had to tread carefully.

“We knew the Eatery was important to Cottonwood, with its history, so we knew it was important for us to fuse the two businesses together,” Lorena says. Toward that end, the Alvarezes retained key Eatery employees and preserved the more treasured features from the Eatery’s menu, including fish & chips, the French dip sandwich, steaks, burgers, fried prawns and grilled cheese sandwiches.

The breakfast menu features both Mexican classics like chorizo con huevo and menudo and American standards like chicken fried steak and pancakes. The Alvarezes also kept the Eatery’s lineup of soups while adding a traditional albondigas soup to the menu.

A small bar was added and the Alvarezes offer Fall River Brewing’s Hexagenia IPA, Modelo and Pacifico on tap as well as regional wine from Burnsini Vineyards and New Clairvaux. A new TV set will complement plans for daily “happy hour” activities, including karaoke.

Having already moved from a trailer to a permanent building,
the Alvarezes are setting their sights on expanding and hope to open
a restaurant in Redding within two years and then a location in
Red Bluff.

They’ve already started making inroads in Redding by using their trailer to cater at special events, including an employee lunch for Dignity Health workers. While they work to build up a customer base, Lorena says they keep a close eye on social media, take note of the feedback and make adjustments where they can. 

Cottonwood resident Angie Gurrola is a longtime Tango Tacos customer who has had the Alvarezes cater private parties and several events her promotion company, Mesa Productions, has presented. “We have never been disappointed and they have got many referrals from us,” Gurrola says.

“They took on quite an undertaking with taking over the Eatery, but it was what Cottonwood needed, having local people in that spot. Having kept some Eatery favorites and adding their own specialties has made it everyone’s new favorite spot,” Gurrola adds. “They are genuine hard-working people with great family support.”

20828 Front St., Cottonwood 

(530) 347-1717 

Monday-Saturday 7:30am to 9pm Sunday, 7:30am to 3pm